HIGH POINT – High Point changed its lineup 24 times. A&T had its shortstop come in and pitch. There were a total of eight errors made. The Aggies lost a 6-run lead. When the madness was over, hustle plays by Ryan Hill and Brandon Mitchell led the North Carolina A&T baseball team to a 7-6 win over the Panthers in 10 innings at Williard Stadium.
“I’m extremely proud of my team because that was a good test for us,” said A&T head coach Joel Sanchez. “There are going to be other pressure situations where we’re going to have to win these type of tight games. We didn’t cave in.”
All of the momentum was in HPU’s favor after a five-run home ninth inning that tied the game at 6. The Panthers (12-8) went with their sixth pitcher of the night when they gave the ball to John Maloney to open the Aggies 10th. Hill got things started for A&T (9-11) when he beat out a groundball to second base. After a batter interference call on Bo McMillan gave A&T its first out of the 10th, Hill stole second to move into scoring position.
Mitchell then became the hero as he hit a slow groundball to first baseman Alex Gross. The ball was hit far enough away from the first base bag that Maloney had to run over and cover. It became footrace to the bag between Maloney and Mitchell. Mitchell won as the hurried throw got away from Maloney. The mishap allowed Hill to score to put A&T ahead 7-6.
“It’s always good when you have speed on the bases,” said Sanchez. “Brandon really busted it out to get down to first, and Ryan Hill, he can go. Speed kills.”
After putting out the fire in the ninth inning to send the game into extra innings, right-hand reliever Brian Poag retired the Panthers in order by striking out two of the three batters he faced to improve to 2-0 on the year.
“Brian Poag did a great job of coming in and getting us out of a tough situations,” said Sanchez.
A&T right-hand reliever Luke McCreesh struggled in the eighth by walking the first two batters he faced. The Panthers only came away with a run as the Aggies went into the bottom of the ninth with a 6-1 lead. McCreesh would walk Chris Clare to open the ninth, leading Sanchez to make a change. Instead of going to his bullpen to get a pitcher, he moved starting shortstop and All-American Luke Tendler to the bump. Tendler also ran into trouble.
Brenden Rivera hit a sinking line drive into right field that went between Brandon Wilkerson’s legs in right field. The ball rolled all the way to the wall, allowing Clare to score and Rivera to stop at third. Rivera scored on a wild pitch before Tendler got his first out by striking out Mitch Reeves. But Josh Green walked and Blake Hutton singled to load the bases. Tendler then hit Zach Vandergraft with a 3-2 pitch to send in another run to cut A&T’s lead to 6-4.
The hit by pitch led Sanchez to move Tendler back to short as Poag came out of the pen. Alex Gross greeted him with an RBI single up the middle for the Panthers’ fifth run. Things got scarier when Poag unleashed a wild pitch, allowing Hutton to score to tie the game at 6. With runners at third and second with one out, Poag intentionally walked Brett Gemmell to put the force play back into play. Poag got Clare to fly out and Rivera to ground out to give the Aggies a chance to win in the 10th.
“McCreesh and Luke struggled throwing strikes out there,” said Sanchez. “You have to throw strikes over the plate to make these guys swing the bat. When you give them free passes, it’s going to be a situation like that. You let them get back in the ballgame. The good thing is we didn’t crack. We buckled quite a bit but we didn’t crack. That was a good win for us.”
A&T starter Justin Godette brought the Aggies to the brink of victory by pitching seven strong innings, striking out three, walking two and not giving up a run in 104 pitches thrown. Godette lowered his ERA by more than seven points after coming into the game with a 14.43 ERA. A&T gave Godette a comfortable lead by scoring three runs in the fourth inning to go ahead 6-0.
The Aggies early led HPU to sub every starter but two going into the Aggies half of the fifth. HPU subbed so much on Wednesday, pitcher Jeremy Johnson had to pinch-run in the ninth.
Wilkerson led the Aggies by going 3-for-5 with three runs scored as the leadoff hitter. Hill scored twice and Tendler had two hits. The Aggies return to conference play this weekend when they travel to Savannah, Ga., to face defending MEAC champion Savannah State in a three-game series starting with a 1 p.m., Saturday doubleheader. The series concludes on Sunday with a 1 p.m., first pitch.